Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vincent Motorcycles: Those Were The Days

Above: Rollie Free's famous American record run at Bonneville on September 13, 1948 aboard an HRD V-Twin non-blown Vincent. First run just under the record, Rollie discarded his leathers and stripped down to speedos, swimming cap and borrowed tennis shoes for his final run. He removed the seat and laid down flat to avoid wind resistance and steered by staring down at the painted stripe. The above might just be the most famous motorcycle picture of all time (at least to motorcycle racing fans.) Instead of being killed, he tuned in an average speed of 150.313 for the then new American speed record for unstreamlined and unsupercharged bikes. WHAP! Take THAT!

This bike sold at auction in 2010 for a cool million dollars, the first motorcycle to ever fetch that price.

In 1949, a prize and trophy was offered for the first successful British attempt at the world record (held since 1937 by BMW at 173,54 mph.)  NSU (Germany) upped the record to 180.29 mph in 1951. Vincent built a special brand new supercharged Black Lightning (below) which was then extensively modified for a British attempt at the record. In 1953, Les Graham was scheduled to make the attempt, but sadly Les was killed in a crash at the 1953 Senior Isle of Man TT. The supercharged virgin Vincent Black Lightning changed hands several times, but never made a record attempt.

The below picture is of the supercharged Black Lightning, itself an empty legend.


  1. "Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
    Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
    Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
    They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
    He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
    He said I've got no further use for these
    I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
    Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
    And he gave her one last kiss and died
    And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

    from Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"

    Maybe not my own original honest thinking but Soub wooed the socks off me mulish hooves with "Red Molly" and Richard Thompson.

    1. "He gave her his Vincent to ride?"

      Is Soub being double-entendre-obscene again? Is Vincent his code word for Johnson?

      Just wondering. Very suspicious of Soub's poetry recommendations.

      I'd put your socks back on until you found out. :)

    2. Why, that's almost fighting talk there, or it would be if I knew what you colonial chappies mean by 'Johnson'. Is that, perchance, some american brand of motorbike significantly inferior to a Vincent? Like one of those 'Hardly Davidsons' perhaps?

      Biff! Boff!, take that, you blackguard!

    3. Much more vulgar, I'm afraid. A trip to the Urban Dictionary website may be needed.

  2. Replies
    1. This post is about a legendary motorcycle, and you are looking at the old guy's bum?

  3. That chap in the first picture ... he can't be comfortable. If you're going to those lengths, why keep the shoes on?

    1. I don't know why blogger isn't taking my comment replies. This is the thirteenth time I've tried to respond to you about shoes and burning feet.

  4. Wonder why he didn't ride it himself?

    1. You mean for the British record in '53? Well, this picture is of Rollie setting the American record. He was an American. You would need a limey for the British record, I guess. I mean, if he broke the British record, it would really only be upping the American record, right?

      Sounds like I know what I am talking about, eh?



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